“War does not determine who is right ~ only who is left.” Bertrand Russell
Memorial Day was born out of the Civil War’s desire to honor and remember its dead. That heritage alone is enough to affect our DNA, as there was not an American family untouched by that destruction. Today, despite two ‘Great Wars’ and far too many in between, many people no longer have a direct link to a dead warrior. Yet the day remains one of memory, and of honor, for every fallen soldier is part of our DNA. Each one belonged to someone, who was related to another, who loved that one, whose child was raised without a father, whose mother lost every man in her home, and now she is part of the warrior’s lineage. Whether we knew the fallen, or not, they have written a page in our heart-script by being connected to someone. We may only know their story. We might be distantly related, they may be a friend of a friend, but the life they led, and those they loved, are part of us.
This relationship through time, and place, of remote DNA, and memory, was brought home during a 60 Minutes story of the last marine who had marched in the Death March of Bataaan, on the Philippine Island of Luzon, in WWII. He is remarkably alive, and kicking at 98. As he told his story, I thought about how my life had been affected and changed by another who had been on that march. My mother’s brother, my handsome, winsome uncle Brooks, had died at 23 in prison camp, one of the few left alive of the 75.000 that began the march. Though I never knew him, my mother’s relationship as his younger, adoring sister, and her profound love, and loss, marked, and changed my life forever.
Mundane and precious memories of spirit live within, leading us forward into deeper relationships as we seek to repair and re-connect to past and future selves. The legacy of loss is as important as that of survival. It is death that forges life. And it is love, or loss of it , that marks memory for all time, whether we are blood related, or not. We remember our dead because they are part of us. We step on their backs. We carry their passion, as well as their spirit forward. It is this interconnectedness that grows a transformative life.
What do we owe our dead? Memory. What do they owe us? A hand-up in consciousness. If war is worth anything, it is the knowledge that it serves no one and solves nothing. Our war dead return to make us look back, reminding us to carry love forward. If we honor them at all, we will prevail to grow not just stronger, but compassionate, willing to reach out and connect, knowing it’s what they wish governments would have done before they haughtily bristled with hate and greed, then laid their precious life to waste.